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Living Legend Shares Vision with King University 2017 Spring Graduates

BRISTOL, Tenn., April 29, 2017 – The sound of bagpipes resounded throughout the surrounding hills on Saturday, April 29, as graduates gathered with family and friends to celebrate King University’s Spring 2017 Commencement exercises on the Oval on the University’s main campus in Bristol, Tenn.

In honor of King’s sesquicentennial anniversary, the keynote speaker, King’s own Katherine Paterson, a 1954 graduate of then King College, shared her vision with those in attendance.

“Commencement is always a special time as the entire institution comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of our students,” said Matt Roberts, Ed.D., vice president of Academic Affairs. “This year is particularly special as we continue to celebrate 150 years as a Christian, liberal arts institution of higher learning. We look forward to our students' continued success in our region and beyond.”

Diplomas were awarded to 567 students who have completed undergraduate and graduate degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Behavioral Health Sciences, School of Communication, Information, and Design, School of Business and Economics, School of Education, and the School of Nursing.

King employees (faculty, staff, and trustees) had the option to bestow the diploma for their loved one who graduated. One such graduate, Conseulo Jewel Capshaw, received her Master of Business Administration from her grandmother, Jewel Bell, executive administrative assistant for communications at King. Ms. Bell will celebrate her 65th year as a King University employee in Sept. 2017.

Several special recognitions were awarded during the Commencement ceremony, including the M. Jeffrey Byrd Distinguished Service Award, named in memory of M. Jeffrey Byrd, former chair of King College Board of Trustees and former president of Bristol Motor Speedway. The M. Jeffrey Byrd Distinguished Service Award recipient was awarded this year to Karren Bennett (’17). This award is presented to a King student who “exceeds expectations” through his or her service to the community and has modeled leadership in a variety of ways throughout their college career. The award pays tribute to those who have displayed a heart for service and commitment to the mission of King, which emphasizes cultural transformation in Christ. The award also honors academic achievement, servant leadership and dedication to the student body as well as the local community.

This year a student, a staff member, and a Trustee of King University were recognized.  The recipients of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award were Ann (’68) and Pete (’67) Holler and Aaron Hitefield ('17). The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award was named after Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, orator, philanthropist, and in the words of a friend, someone who “reached out both hands in constant helpfulness to [humankind].” It is made in recognition of “fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living, as distinct from hhigh scholarship, athletic achievement, and success in business, professional ability, political leadership, or mere worldly prominence in any calling.” The recipients are recognized for excellence in character and service to humanity. King appoints the recipients as its representative to bear its standard before the world.

This year’s recipient of the R. T. L. Liston Award for Academic Excellence was Emily Powers (’17). The R. T. L. Liston Award for Academic Excellence honors the important contributions of the thirteenth President of King College who served for 25 years and led the College into a new era of academic excellence. Beginning in 1986, this award is selected strictly on a quantitative basis without consideration for a particular degree. The medal was designed by the late Dr. Graham G. Landrum, King professor emeritus of English. The Latin inscription quotes St. Ambrose and is translated “Because Thou Dost Suffer, Not For Thyself, But For Me.”

The commencement speaker, acclaimed author Katherine Paterson, graduated in 1954 summa cum laude with a degree in English from King. She received her master’s degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. After teaching for a year, Paterson spent four years in Japan as a missionary. She then traveled back to New York to pursue a second master’s degree in religious education. 

Paterson has since authored more than 30 books, including 16 novels for children and young people. She has twice won the Newbery Medal, for “Bridge to Terabithia” in 1978 and “Jacob Have I Loved” in 1981. “The Master Puppeteer” won the National Book Award in 1977, and “The Great Gilly Hopkins” won the National Book Award in 1979 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. For the body of her work, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006, and in 2000 was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

She is a vice-president of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and is a member of the board of trustees of Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is also an honorary lifetime member of the International Board of Books for Young People and an Alida Cutts lifetime member of the US section, USBBY. She is the 2010-2011 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

On Friday, April 28, graduates joined together in worship during King’s annual Baccalaureate Ceremony at First Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Dr. Peter D. Barnes, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., served as the speaker for the service.


King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information about King University, visit King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information on SCHEV certification, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.